Ordo Templi Orientis
Sacred River explores spirituality grounded in religious naturalism & progressive ethics that is both non-theistic and non-supernatural.
After the recent examination of Liber CI, “An Open Letter to Those Who May Wish to Join the Order”, I’ve come to a much deeper appreciation of the vision that Crowley had for OTO, at least as he articulated it in writing. There are essentially three aspects of OTO:
- development of Thelemic initiates, many of whom will rest at Fifth, with some who will learn the Supreme Secret of the Ninth to be used for the Great Work, both of the Self and the Order
- development of a spiritual society founded upon fraternal principles, and
- development of a cultural transformation machine bringing Thelema into the world.
All three, naturally, are designed to be interconnected. In the first couple of decades since our resurrection in the 1970s, we largely (but not exclusively) focused on the first aspect: the development of individual initiates. This makes sense, because we have to acquire individuals before we can develop a society. Since we had to initiate individuals into an organization that had yet to develop a disciplined and well-established culture, the general character of the Order was lower down on the maturity scale. Examples include attitudes of elitism, slipshod ritual, placing personal benefit above service to siblings, excessive sex and drugs without enough regard for boundaries, addiction to drama, and a general adolescent mentality of using the OTO to express teenage-like rebellion (“ooo...we’re evil black sex magicians! Nietzsche rocks!”). By no means does this describe every member since 1970—certainly there has been great intelligence, nobility, and dedication as well...I’m not trying to paint a black and white picture here. I’m simply saying that without the strong social component in place, it made it easy for selfish and undisciplined attitudes to exist.
However, as our numbers have grown, especially since the mid-90s, we have seen the second function begin to receive much more attention. As the adolescent attitudes of the “teenage phase” of the Order are fading and a rapid maturation process has started to take place, we are seeing increased attention on things like ritual and organizational discipline, respect for personal boundaries, regularization of operations, and promotion of general principles needed to make a growing society possible. At the same time, this maturation process is bumpy. Many members don’t want the Order to grow up and have fallen away. Others are pulling ahead in some areas, such as “professionalism”, and have little patience for everyone else still catching up. Yet others aren’t comfortable with the interpersonal requirements needed for a healthy social system, including those fraternal principles outlined in our initiations and in documents like “An Open Letter.” Growing up is painful, and we’re all feeling the burn in one way or another.
If we are ever going to fulfill the third aspect in any meaningful sense, however, we must develop the first two far beyond where they are today. I am optimistic...I see this beginning to happen and I have great confidence in our ability to accomplish our core tasks. We are lucky, because we don’t have to make it up out of whole cloth—Crowley provided a blueprint. Whereas the initiation ceremonies themselves provide the basic outline for the first function, Liber CI is our central outline for the second, that of creating a mature spiritual society.
Ideally, the first two aspects should create a feedback loop. As individual initiates develop, they become better equipped to build and be a part of the spiritual society, which in turn provides an environment ever more conducive to individual development. We are now starting to see this feedback loop really come to life in its awkward, sometimes conflictive way. As resistance to this maturation process becomes weaker in relation to the growth potential, we will see an increased blooming in both of the two initial aspects of the Order.
But what is this spiritual society to look like? Crowley provided a reasonably clear (if idealistic) vision for this in the second part of the Blue Equinox, as well as in other documents like “Of Eden and the Sacred Oak,” “Khabs am Pekht,” and “What is Freemasonry.” An important element of OTO is that it “concerns itself with temporal affairs...is co-ordinate and practical, and concerns itself with material things” (L300). In other words, it addresses issues that people deal with in every-day life, such as property, work, family, and community. This is very clearly articulated in Liber CI, which is essentially a blueprint for an organization designed to provide both freedom and worldly advantages for all members and the attendant behaviors and attitudes needed to make them possible.
First, let’s review the amazing benefits that the Order is to provide for all its members:
- Teaches a system of philosophy, religion, and science in preparation of the Supreme Secret
- Removal of any obstacle in life that restricts the True Will of any member
- Profess-houses, which can provide lodging, mentoring, networking, libraries, education, care for children and expecting sisters, and housing for Ninths and geriatric members
- Schools providing primary, secondary, trade, and professional education and training
- Health care to all siblings, including the Secret Medicine in some cases
- Legal counsel and representation
- Arbitration of member conflicts
- Limited financial assistance to members and their families
- Adoption of orphaned children of siblings
- Social, romantic, and professional networking
- At death, disposal of remains according to Grade
These are some big benefits. But why isn’t the Order providing all these things? Why don’t we have the required eleven profess-houses in the US already? Where are the schools and universities? Where is our free health care and legal services? There are two (of many) issues to look at in our search for an answer, and they are both in CI itself. The first is membership levels. The initial sentence says that every district (e.g. the Bay Area in CA) is to have at least 1000 members. The ability to obtain the funds, skills, and people-power necessary to make these projects come to life makes a qualitative leap forward when we move from having tens of hundreds of members to having tens of thousands.
The second prerequisite is a detailed set of member behavior and attitudes. Here is a brief summary of the general expectations for each and every member:
Duties to the self
- Do what thou Wilt
- Study Liber Legis and Order principles
Duties to the Order in general
- Diligence in promulgating the Law of Thelema and the principles of the Order (below the VI○)
- Circulate Order literature
- Active recruitment of both friends and civic/business leaders
- Punctual payment of dues
- Offer professional services to Grand Lodge
- Donate and will to the Order books, mines, land, houses, money, and other goods
- Respond to all Lodge summons
Duties to non-members
- Treat non-Thelemites kindly and inspire them to accept the Law
- All pregnant women are to be regarded as sacred, and induced to accept the Law
- Instruct any and all children in the general principles of Thelema
Duties to other siblings
- Private funds should be made available to any sibling in legitimate financial need
- Provide or find employment to siblings who need it
- Health care professionals are to provide medical services to siblings
- All members should attend siblings who are ill or elderly
- Pregnant sisters are to receive all care, attention, and honor
- Acceptance of all children of siblings as being one’s own, and are to be protected and aided
- Lawsuits and slander between siblings are banned
- Must seek to give pleasure to acquainted siblings and offer warm cooperation in all amusements
- Love between members is to be encouraged and considered holy
- While in Lodge, all siblings are to be treated as equals, no matter the relationship elsewhere
- Visiting siblings are to be treated as ambassadors, especially SGIGs, and offered at least three days of hospitality
- Assist members in their social and business pursuits
- The death of a sibling should be met with rejoicing
The greater benefits of the Order cannot be separated from these member duties (as CI itself points out). Of course these are ideals, but we should nevertheless do our best to embody them as much as possible. They are the keystones to our developing spiritual society, and exemplify the core fraternal elements that are taught in our initiatory structure. It is these principles, manifested by dedicated initiates, that will allow for an incredibly powerful organization that can not only provide CI’s vast privileges, but also allow the Order to fully focus on its third aspect---that of being “of weight in the councils of the world” (L300). When we have perfected our spiritual society, within an empowered and resourceful organization of dedicated initiates, then we can begin to promulgate the Law with real vigor. Not in the sense that we will force our way onto others, but in that we will be so attractive to more and more people that it will begin to be “challenged by the heathen, and by the followers of the fallen gods and demigods” (L300), when we will need the practical strength to defend ourselves against the magically dead but temporally powerful old-Aeon religious groups.
I am not too impatient. I know we are only at the beginning...after all, the Aeon still has about 1900 years of life. I am actually quite excited about the idea of being here at the beginning, and love the idea that I am one of many working hard to get this thing up and running. We are finally getting our spiritual society clicking, and I am so curious about how it will develop. I’m glad that we have documents like CI to guide us, along with the talent and passion needed to make it happen.